Internationally acclaimed crime writer Jo Nesbo's antihero police investigator, Harry Hole, is back: in a bone-chilling thriller that will take Hole to the brink of insanity.
Oslo in November. The first snow of the season has fallen. A boy named Jonas wakes in the night to find his mother gone. Out his window, in the cold moonlight, he sees the snowman that inexplicably appeared in the yard earlier in the day. Around its neck is his mother's pink scarf.
Hole suspects a link between a menacing letter he's received and the disappearance of Jonas's mother--and of perhaps a dozen other women, all of whom went missing on the day of a first snowfall. As his investigation deepens, something else emerges: he is becoming a pawn in an increasingly terrifying game whose rules are devised--and constantly revised--by the killer.
Fiercely suspenseful, its characters brilliantly realized, its atmosphere permeated with evil, The Snowman is the electrifying work of one of the best crime writers of our time.
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May 09, 2011
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Excerpt from The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
Wednesday, November 5, 1980
It was the day the snow came. At eleven o'clock in the morning, large flakes had appeared from a colorless sky and invaded the fields, gardens and lawns of Romerike like an armada from outer space. At two, the snowplows were in action in Lillestr?m, and when, at half past two, Sara Kvinesland slowly and carefully steered her Toyota Corolla SR5 between the detached houses on Kolloveien, the November snow was lying like a down duvet over the rolling countryside.
She was thinking that the houses looked different in daylight. So different that she almost passed his driveway. The car skidded as she applied the brakes, and she heard a groan from the backseat. In the rearview mirror she saw her son's disgruntled face.
"It won't take long, my love," she said.
In front of the garage there was a large patch of black pavement amid all the white, and she realized that the moving van had been there. Her throat constricted. She hoped she wasn't too late.
"Who lives here?" came from the backseat.
"Just someone I know," Sara said, automatically checking her hair in the mirror. "Ten minutes, my love. I'll leave the key in the ignition so you can listen to the radio."
She went without waiting for a response, slithered in her slippery shoes up to the door she had been through so many times, but never like this, not in the middle of the day, in full view of all the neighbors' prying eyes. Not that late- night visits would seem any more innocent, but for some reason acts of this kind felt more appropriate when performed after the fall of darkness.
She heard the buzz of the doorbell inside, like a bumblebee in a jam jar. Feeling her desperation mount, she glanced at the windows of the neighboring houses. They gave nothing away, just returned reflections of bare black apple trees, gray sky and milky-white terrain. Then, at last, she heard footsteps behind the door and heaved a sigh of relief. The next moment she was inside and in his arms.
"Don't go, darling," she said, hearing the sob already straining at her vocal cords.
"I have to," he said in a monotone that suggested a refrain he had tired of long ago. His hands sought familiar paths, of which they never tired.
"No, you don't," she whispered into his ear. "But you want to. You don't dare any longer."
"This has nothing to do with you and me."
She could hear the irritation creeping into his voice at the same time as his hand, the strong but gentle hand, slid down over her spine and inside the waistband of her skirt and tights. They were like a pair of practiced dancers who knew their partner's every move, step, breath, rhythm. First, the white lovemaking. The good one. Then the black one. The pain.
His hand caressed her coat, searching for her nipple under the thick material. He was eternally fascinated by her nipples; he always returned to them. Perhaps it was because he didn't have any himself.
"Did you park in front of the garage?" he asked with a firm tweak. She nodded and felt the pain shoot into her head like a dart of pleasure. Her sex had already opened for him. "My son's waiting in the car."
His hand came to an abrupt halt.
"He knows nothing," she groaned, sensing his hand falter.
"And your husband? Where's he now?"
"Where do you think? At work, of course."
Now it was she who sounded irritated. Both because he had brought her husband into the conversation and it was difficult for her to say anything at all about him without getting irritated, and because her body needed him, quickly. Sara Kvinesland opened his fly.
"Don't . . . ," he began, grabbing her around the wrist. She slapped him hard with her other hand. He looked at her in amazement as a red flush spread across his cheek. She smiled, grabbed his thick black hair and pulled his face down to hers. "You can go," she hissed. "But first you have to fuck me. Is that understood?"
She felt his breath against her face. It was coming in hefty gasps now. Again she slapped him with her free hand, and his dick was growing in her other.
He thrust, a bit harder each time, but it was over now. She was numb, the magic was gone, the tension had dissolved and all that was left was despair. She was losing him. Now, as she lay there, she had lost him. All the years she had yearned, all the tears she had cried, the desperate things he had made her do. Without giving anything back. Except for one thing.
He was standing at the foot of the bed and taking her with closed eyes. Sara stared at his chest. At first she had thought it strange, but after a while she had begun to like the sight of unbroken white skin over his pectoral muscles. It reminded her of old statues on which the nipples had been omitted out of consideration for public modesty.
His groans were getting louder. She knew that soon he would let out a furious roar. She had loved that roar. The ever-surprised, ecstatic, almost pained expression as though the orgasm surpassed his wildest expectation each and every time. Now she was waiting for the final roar, a bellowing farewell to this freezing box of a bedroom, divested of pictures, curtains and carpets. Then he would get dressed and travel to a different part of the country, where he said he had been offered a job he couldn't say no to. But he could say no to this. This. And still he would roar with pleasure.
She closed her eyes. But the roar didn't come. He had stopped.
"What's up?" she asked, opening her eyes. His features were distorted, all right. But not with pleasure.
"A face," he whispered.
She flinched. "Where?"
"Outside the window."
The window was at the other end of the bed, right above her head. She heaved herself around, felt him slip out, already limp. The window above her head was set too high in the wall for her to see out. And too high for anyone standing outside to peer in. Because of the already dwindling daylight all she could see was the double- exposed reflection of the ceiling lamp.
"You saw yourself," she said, almost pleading.
"That was what I thought at first," he said, still staring at the window.
Sara pulled herself up onto her knees. Got up and looked into the yard. And there, there was the face.
She laughed out loud with relief. The face was white, with eyes and a mouth made with black pebbles, probably from the driveway. And arms made of twigs from the apple trees.
"Heavens," she gasped. "It's only a snowman."
Then her laugh turned into tears; she sobbed helplessly until she felt his arms around her.
"I have to go now," she sobbed.
"Stay for a little while longer," he said.
She stayed for a little while longer.
As Sara approached the garage she saw that almost forty minutes had passed.
He had promised to call her now and then. He had always been a good liar, and for once she was glad. Even before she got to the car she saw her son's pale face staring at her from the backseat. She pulled at the door and found to her astonishment that it was locked. She peered in at him through steamed- up windows. He opened it only when she knocked on the glass.
She sat in the driver's seat. The radio was silent and it was ice-cold inside. The key was on the passenger seat. She turned to him. Her son was pale, and his lower lip was trembling.
"Is there anything wrong?" she asked.
"Yes," he said. "I saw him."
There was a thin, shrill tone of horror in his voice that she couldn't recall hearing since he was a little boy jammed between them on the sofa in front of the TV with his hands over his eyes. And now his voice was changing, he had stopped giving her a good- night hug and had started being interested in car engines and girls. And one day he would get in a car with one of them and also leave her.
"What do you mean?" she said, inserting the key in the ignition and turning.
"The snowman . . . "
There was no response from the engine and panic gripped her without warning. Quite what she was afraid of she didn't know. She
stared out the windshield and turned the key again. Had the battery died?
"And what did the snowman look like?" she asked, pressing the accelerator to the floor and desperately turning the key so hard it felt as though she would break it. He answered, but the response was drowned by the roar of the engine.
Sara put the car in gear and let go of the clutch as if in a sudden hurry to get away. The wheels spun in the soft, slushy snow. She accelerated harder, but the rear of the car slid sideways. By then the tires had spun their way down to the pavement and they lurched forward and skidded into the road.
"Dad's waiting for us," she said. "We'll have to get a move on."
She switched on the radio and turned up the volume to fill the cold interior with sounds other than her own voice. A broadcaster said for the hundredth time today that last night Ronald Reagan had beaten Jimmy Carter in the American election.
The boy said something again, and she glanced in the mirror.
"What did you say?" she said in a loud voice.
He repeated it, but still she couldn't hear. She turned down the radio while heading toward the main road and the river, which ran through the countryside like two mournful black stripes. And gave a start when she realized he had leaned forward between the two front seats. His voice sounded like a dry whisper in her ear. As if it were important no one else heard them.
"We're going to die."
November 2, 2005 -- Day I
Harry Hole gave a start and opened his eyes wide. It was freezing cold, and from the dark came the sound of the voice that had awoken him. It announced that the American people would decide today whether their president for the next four years would again be George Walker Bush. November. Harry was thinking they were definitely heading for dark times. He threw off the duvet and placed his feet on the floor. The linoleum was so cold it stung. He left the news blaring from the clock radio and went into the bathroom. Regarded himself in the mirror. November there, too: drawn, grayish pale and overcast. As usual, his eyes were bloodshot, and the pores on his nose large black craters. The bags under his eyes, with their light-blue alcohol-washed irises, would disappear after his face had been ministered to with hot water, a towel and breakfast. He assumed they would, that is. Harry was not sure exactly how his face would fare during the day now that he had turned forty. Whether the wrinkles would be ironed out and peace would fall over the hunted expression he woke with after nights of being ridden by nightmares. Which was most nights. For he avoided mirrors after he left his small, spartan apartment on Sofies Gate and transformed into Inspector Hole of the Crime Squad at the Oslo Police HQ. Then he stared into others' faces to find their pain, their Achilles' heels, their nightmares, motives and reasons for self-deception, listening to their fatiguing lies and trying to find a meaning in what he did: imprisoning people who were already imprisoned inside themselves. Prisons of hatred and self- contempt he recognized all too well. He ran a hand over the shorn bristles of blond hair that grew precisely seventy-five inches above the frozen soles of his feet. His collarbone stood out under his skin like a clothes hanger. He had trained a lot since the last case. In a frenzy, some maintained. As well as cycling he had started to lift weights in the fitness room in the bowels of the Police HQ.
He liked the burning pain, and the repressed thoughts. Nevertheless, he just became leaner. The fat disappeared and his muscles were layered between skin and bone. And while before he had been broad shouldered and what Rakel called a natural athlete, now he had begun to resemble the photograph he had once seen of a skinned polar bear: a muscular but shockingly gaunt predator. Quite simply, he was fading away. Not that it actually mattered. Harry sighed. November. It was going to get even darker.
He went into the kitchen, drank a glass of water to relieve his headache and peered through the window in surprise. The roof of the building on the other side of Sofies Gate was white and the bright reflected light made his eyes smart. The first snow had come in the night. He thought of the letter.He did occasionally get such letters, but this one had been special. It had mentioned Toowoomba.
On the radio a nature program had started and an enthusiastic voice was waxing lyrical about seals. "Every summer Berhaus seals collect in the Bering Strait to mate. Since the males are in the majority, the competition for females is so fierce that those males that have managed to procure themselves a female will stick with her during the whole of the breeding period. The male will take care of his partner until the young have been born and can cope by themselves. Not out of love for the female, but out of love for his own genes and hereditary material. Darwinist theory would say that it is natural selection that makes the Berhaus seal monogamous, not morality."
I wonder, thought Harry.
The voice on the radio was almost turning falsetto with excitement. "But before the seals leave the Bering Strait to search for food in the open sea, the male will try to kill the female. Why? Because a female Berhaus seal will never mate twice with the same male! For her this is about spreading the biological risk of hereditary material, just like on the stock market. For her it makes biological sense to be promiscuous, and the male knows this. By taking her life he wants to stop the young of other seals competing with his own progeny for the same food."
"We're entering Darwinian waters here, so why don't humans think like the seal?" another voice said.
"But we do, don't we! Our society is not as monogamous as it appears, and never has been. A Swedish study showed recently that between fifteen and twenty percent of all children born have a different father from the one they--and for that matter the postulated fathers--think. Twenty percent! That's every fifth child! Living a lie. And ensuring biological diversity."
Harry fiddled with the radio dial to find some tolerable music. He stopped at an aging Johnny Cash's version of "Desperado."
There was a firm knock on the door.
Harry went into the bedroom, put on his jeans, returned to the hall and opened up.
"Harry Hole?" The man outside was wearing blue overalls and looking at Harry through thick lenses. His eyes were as clear as a
child's. Harry nodded.
"Have you got fungus?" The man asked the question with a straight face. A long wisp of hair traversed his forehead and was stuck there. Under his arm he was holding a plastic clipboard with a densely printed sheet.
Harry waited for him to explain further, but nothing was forthcoming. Just this clear, open expression.
"That," Harry said, "strictly speaking, is a private matter."
The man gave the suggestion of a smile in response to a joke he was heartily sick of hearing. "Fungus in your apartment. Mold."
"I have no reason to believe that I do," said Harry.
"That's the thing about mold. It seldom gives anyone any reason to believe that it's there." The man sucked at his teeth and rocked on his heels.
"But?" Harry said at length.
"But it is."
"What makes you think that?"
"Your neighbor's got it."
"Uh- huh? And you think it may have spread?"
"Mold doesn't spread. Dry rot does."
"So then . . . ?"
"There's a construction fault with the ventilation along the walls in this building. It allows dry rot to flourish. May I take a peep at your kitchen?"
Harry stepped to the side. The man powered into the kitchen, where at once he pressed an orange hair- dryer- like apparatus against the wall. It squeaked twice.
"Damp detector," the man said, studying something that was obviously an indicator. "Just as I thought. Sure you haven't seen or smelled anything suspicious?"
Harry didn't have a clear perception of what that might be.
"A coating like on stale bread," the man said. "Moldy smell."
Harry shook his head.
"Have you had sore eyes?" the man asked. "Felt tired? Had headaches?"
Harry shrugged. "Of course. For as long as I can remember."
"Do you mean for as long as you've lived here?"
"Maybe. Listen . . . "
But the man wasn't listening; he'd taken a knife from his belt. Harry stood back and watched the hand holding the knife being raised and thrust with great force. There was a sound like a groan as the knife went through the plasterboard behind the wallpaper. The man pulled out the knife, thrust it in again and bent back a powdery piece of plaster, leaving a large gap in the wall. Then he whipped out a small penlight and shone it into the cavity. A deep frown developed behind his oversize glasses. Then he stuck his nose deep into the cavity and sniffed.
"Right," he said. "Hello there, boys."
"Hello there who?" Harry asked, edging closer.
"Aspergillus," said the man. "A genus of mold. We have three or four hundred types to choose among and it's difficult to say which one this is because the growth on these hard surfaces is so thin it's invisible. But there's no mistaking the smell."
"That means trouble, right?" Harry asked, trying to remember how much he had left in his bank account after he and his father had sponsored a trip to Spain for Sis, his little sister, who had what she referred to as "a touch of Down syndrome."
"It's not like real dry rot. The building won't collapse," the man said. "But you might."
"If you're prone to it. Some people get ill from breathing the same air as the mold. They're ailing for years, and of course they get accused of being hypochondriacs since no one can find anything and the other residents are fine. And then the pest eats up the wallpaper and the plasterboard."
"Mm. What do you suggest?"
"That I eradicate the infection, of course."
"And my personal finances while you're at it?"
"Covered by the building's insurance, so it won't cost you a krone. All I need is access to the apartment for the next few days."
Harry found the spare set of keys in the kitchen drawer and passed them to him.
"It'll just be me," the man said. "I should mention that in passing. Lots of strange things going on out there."
"Are there?" Harry smiled sadly, staring out of the window.
"Nothing," Harry said. "There's nothing to steal here anyway. I'll be off now."
The low morning sun sparkled off all the glass on the Oslo Police HQ, standing there as it had for the last thirty years, on the summit of the ridge by the main street, Gr?nlandsleiret. Although this had not been exactly intentional, the HQ was near the high- crime areas in east Oslo, and the prison, located on the site of the old brewery, was its closest neighbor. The police station was surrounded by a brown withering lawn and maple and linden trees that had been covered with a thin layer of gray-white snow during the night, making the park look like a deceased's shrouded chattels.
Harry walked up the black strip of pavement to the main entrance and entered the central hall, where Kari Christensen's porcelain wall decoration with running water whispered its eternal secrets. He nodded to the security guard in reception and went up to the Crime Squad on the sixth floor. Although it had been almost six months since he had been given his new office in the red zone, he still often mistakenly went to the cramped, windowless one he had shared with Officer Jack Halvorsen. Now Magnus Skarre was in there. And Jack Halvorsen had been interred in the ground of Vestre Aker cemetery. At first the parents had wanted their son to be buried in their hometown, Steinkjer, as Jack and Beate L?nn, the head of Krimteknisk, the Forensics Unit, had not been married; they hadn't even been living together. But when they found out that Beate was pregnant and Jack's baby would be born in the summer, Jack's parents agreed that Jack's grave should be in Oslo.
Harry entered his new office. Which he knew would be known as that forever, the way the fifty- year- old home ground of the Barcelona football club was still called Camp Nou, Catalan for "New Stadium." He dropped into his chair, switched on the radio and nodded good morning to the photos perched on the bookcase and propped against the wall. One day in an uncertain future, if he remembered to buy picture hooks, they would hang on the wall. Ellen Gjelten and Jack Halvorsen and Bjarne M?ller. There they stood in chronological order. The Dead Policemen's Society.
On the radio Norwegian politicians and social scientists were giving their views on the American presidential election. Harry recognized the voice of Arve St?p, the owner of the successful magazine Liberal and famous for being one of the most knowledgeable, arrogant and entertaining pundits in the country. Harry turned up the volume until the voices bounced off the brick walls, and grabbed his Peerless handcuffs from the new desk. He practiced speed- cuffing the table leg, which was already splintered as a result of this new bad habit of his. He had picked it up in the FBI course in Chicago and perfected it during lonely evenings in a lousy apartment in Cabrini-Green, surrounded by arguing neighbors and in the company of Jim Beam. The aim was to bang the cuffs against the arrestee's wrist in such a way that the springloaded arm closed around the wrist and the lock clicked on the other side. With the right amount of force and accuracy you could cuff yourself to an arrestee in one simple movement before he had a chance to react. Harry had never had any use for this on the job and only once for the other thing he had learned over there: how to catch a serial killer. The cuffs clicked around the table leg and the radio voices droned on. Why do you think Norwegians are so skeptical about George Bush, Arve St?p?"
"Because we're an overprotected nation that has never fought in any wars. We've been happy to let others do it for us: En gland, the Soviet Union and America. Yes, ever since the Napoleonic Wars we've hidden behind the backs of our older brothers. Norway has based its security on others taking the responsibility when things got tough. That's been going on for so long that we've lost our sense of reality and we believe that the earth is basically populated by people who wish us--the world's richest country--well. Norway, a gibbering, peabrained blonde who gets lost in an alley in the Bronx and is now indignant that her bodyguard is so brutal with muggers."